Since they purchased their 1930s townhouse in central London just over two decades ago, co-founders of Firmdale Hotels and the Kit Kemp Design Studio, Kit and Tim Kemp, have undertaken two major renovations.
The first was prompted by a conversation between Kit and fellow designer Robert Kime. ‘He told me that he always advised making the best room in the house the kitchen – and it was like a light had been turned on,’ says Kit.
This wisest of kitchen ideas inspired Kit to transform their large, barrel-shaped dining room overlooking the garden into the kitchen, ‘which, of course, we now live in,’ she adds.
The bespoke cabinetry was installed several years ago and it has seen a number of color changes. Kit had the beaded lampshades made from colorful Kurdi aprons.
Kit added a conservatory leading off the kitchen for dining.
Tord Boontje (opens in new tab)’s chandelier casts filigree shadows on the ceiling at night.
More recently, with the couple’s three daughters having flown the nest, it was time to tweak the layout again. ‘We had a front room that was no longer being used so we knocked it through to the living room, which in turn links to the kitchen, so now everything is open plan,’ explains Kit.
For bright living room ideas – a room now with glorious east-west light – she teamed her oversized One Way geometric linen with an exuberant botanical print, tempering the two bolder designs with a neat paisley pattern.
The living room’s lively patterns are grounded with antiques, including a striking 18th-century Spanish chest, above which hangs a portrait by Duncan Grant. ‘This home is very much a collaboration with my husband and the two of us share a love for Bloomsbury art,’ says Kit.
On the walls hang a collection of works by seminal Bloomsbury artists. ‘The Bloomsbury Set has been so much a part of our lives ever since we designed the Charlotte Street Hotel,’ says Kit. ‘Because they are all by British artists, we find that these paintings are perfect in our light, as they are not too strong.’
In the process of the redesign, the front door was moved and the hallway enlarged and it was with this space that Kit commenced the redecoration of the entire house.
‘It is one of our old sayings that if the in-between spaces – hallways, landings and so on – are given character, then your house is double the size, as you are not through them and out the other side,’ says Kit, who papered with her repeat Mythical Land design, which forms an enchanting backdrop to intriguing pieces and hallway ideas, including a Swedish wedding clock and an old beehive.
'I wanted to make this into an area you would want to stand in and look around,’ says Kit of the choice of her whimsical wallpaper design, which offsets a collection of unusual pieces including a chair upholstered in an embroidered textile from Kazakhstan.
Kit sacrificed one of the four bedrooms on the first floor to create a walk-through music room housing their grand piano.
'Both Tim and I are naturally untalented so we didn’t want the piano in our main living space,’ she laughs, adding, ‘I lined this area with bookshelves and I now think that might have been acoustically rather a good thing.’
Tucked beneath the eaves, this space benefits from interesting volumes that are emphasised with a grand half-tester bed.
Although every room has witnessed an overhaul with new, original bedroom ideas, Kit has been mindful to reuse pieces where she can. ‘If the frame is good I will always reupholster it and we donate our fabrics to a number of different charities, while smaller offcuts get made into toys,’ she says.
Kit loves a barter system, devising one of the bedroom schemes around pieces garnered from a showroom set she designed, while another bedroom houses armchairs she created for a stand for home furnishings company Blithfield.
This fantastical headboard was created by Kit for a showroom display; by a stroke of serendipity she found a lamp base that chimes perfectly with the aquatic theme.
Creativity is at the heart of everything Kit does and, indeed, it forms the focus of her latest book, written during the pandemic. ‘Through doing my weekly blog, we saw that creativity at home has had enormous traction and that people want to customise their interiors,’ she says. ‘I think we have got over the idea of big designer names; now it’s more about your name – something you are bringing to your interior so that it is truly one of a kind.’
Kit Kemp Design Secrets £25, Hardie Grant Books
Interior design/ Kit Kemp (opens in new tab)
Photography/ Simon Brown
Text/ Rachel Leedham
Interiors have always been Vivienne's passion – from bold and bright to Scandi white. After studying at Leeds University, she worked at the Financial Times, before moving to Radio Times. She did an interior design course and then worked for Homes & Gardens, Country Living and House Beautiful. Vivienne’s always enjoyed reader homes and loves to spot a house she knows is perfect for a magazine (she has even knocked on the doors of houses with curb appeal!), so she became a houses editor, commissioning reader homes, writing features and styling and art directing photo shoots. She worked on Country Homes & Interiors for 15 years, before returning to Homes & Gardens as houses editor four years ago.
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